His Smile, Our Staple

A candy corn here and there is a delectable treat; however, a diet built on candy corn would be both disgusting and disastrous. Likewise, an important distinction exists between a timely word of affirmation or praise and an identity build around the praise and honor of man.

I write from experience on both fronts. I have inherited honestly from my mother a sweet tooth and a compulsion to buy candy corn to keep in a dish during the Fall. One or two candy corn is enough saccharine to last one for days, but to rely on them for sustenance is a very bad idea. Ask my children who pilfer that little dish of artificial coloring entirely too quickly only to regret it later.

Unfortunately, I also have a soul palate that hungers for a disproportionate dose of praise from men. I tend to slip from enjoying a timely word of encouragement to trying to build an identity upon such sugar-coated treats.

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When my right and understandable desire to hear how people see the Lord in and through me becomes inordinate, my soul gets a tummy ache. I usually don’t realize this is happening until my soul is pale and pallor from malnourishment, at which time the Lord graciously reminds me that His smile alone is to be my staple.

If we live on the approval of man, man’s disapproval or honest critique of us will kill us rather than becoming an opportunity for growth and honest assessment. If we ride the waves of man’s approval and praise, we will surely get wiped out and tossed.

Jesus knew this. His staple was the smile of His eternal Father.  After thirty years of faithful obscurity, Jesus suddenly found Himself being publicly applauded and hailed by large Passover crowds who had seen His miracles. How did He respond? John felt it important to tell us exactly how our Christ reacted to the sudden adoration of the crowds. “But Jesus on His part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.” John 2: 24-25. 

When the same crowds who would later scream “Crucify him” laid down their coats in laud and hysterical praise, He did not entrust Himself to their whims.

Man’s heart is fickle, and even his earnest praise is fleeting. If our personhood is based upon our performance and man’s judgement of that performance, we are entrusting ourselves to something unsteady and unsound.

In Christ, we have a much more lasting option. We base our personhood as His perfect performance as a man on the earth which climaxed in capital punishment in the stead of unsteady humanity.

Through Christ, we have access to the Father’s smile at all times and in all circumstances.  The steady beam of favor which emanates from our Heavenly Father changes not, shifts not, wanes not; however, I often place the smaller, shifting smiles of men in front of that beam, thus obscuring my staple.

I long to increasingly sit under the beam of His smile, eternally secured for me by Christ. I long to enjoy a steady diet of His smile as my staple so that I grow increasingly anchored in a switching sea of man’s approval and disapproval.

I read the following story (emphasis mine) in Brennan Manning’s book The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus many years ago. However, the last line gets me every time I read it. I so long to be like Uncle Seamus, whose deepest certainty was that God was deeply fond of him.

“Several years ago, Edward Farrell, a priest from Detroit, went on a two-week summer vacation to Ireland to visit relatives. His one living uncle was about to celebrate his eightieth birthday. On the great day, Ed and his Uncle got up early. It was before dawn. They took a walk along the shores of Lake Killarney and stopped to watch the sunrise. They stood side by side for a full twenty minutes and then resumed walking. Ed glanced at his uncle and saw that his face had broken into a broad smile. Ed said, “Uncle Seamus, you look very happy.” “I am.” Ed asked, “How come?” And his uncle replied, “The Father of Jesus is very fond of me.”

 

Wearing Weakness

It was just one of those mornings for my four-year old. Even though he usually loves school, he sat in the car in tears, refusing to go to his classroom. I got in the car and sat in crouched in the backseat, already hot and stuffy with the Cali heat.  We talked about why he was feeling sad, what was making him reluctant to go in, how I could help him. About every five minutes, he would gather himself and dry his tears, only to burst out into alligator tears a moment later.

We went on like this for over 20 minutes. As I was opening the door after he agreed to get some fresh air, he looked at me with eyes red and swollen and said something I will never forget. “Momma, I cannot go in there now. I have to fix myself first.”

We live in a house familiar with tears and messiness, so this comment struck me by surprise. It seems that despite our intentional efforts to show our children the full spectrum of human emotion and allow them to be where they are, his little heart innately knew that the world is not friendly to weakness. He wanted to hide until he looked like he had it together for his teachers and classmates.

He is four; I am thirty four. But as he spoke those words, I knew exactly what he meant, as, all too often, I live out of the phrase that he so succinctly and honestly spoke.

I have been studying the book of Hebrews, and the Spirit has had me lingering on Christ as our Great High Priest. In writing Hebrews, Paul is tapping into his deeply Jewish roots to convince the Jewish Christians of the all-sufficiency and pre-eminence of Christ, who fulfilled all the Old Testaments roles of prophet, priest and king.

Paul’s Hebrew audience was well-acquainted with the office of the High Priest, as we today are well acquainted with the presidency.

The High Priest was the chief of the priests, the one who on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, would make his way into the Holy of Holies to atone for the sins of the people. He was to mediate between God and man, attempting to fill the divide by sacrifices.

For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sin. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Hebrews 5:1-2.

The priests were meant to tap into their own weaknesses and thereby access compassion and empathy for their struggling constituents.

What the high priest were meant to typify, Christ perfectly personified.

Christ, who was uncreated and all-powerful, left His impenetrable safety and unparalleled power in the Trinity,  took on gangly limbs and the limits of time and space. He took on a body that was subject to fevers, sun exposure and exhaustion. He limited himself to the circadian rhythms of the human body. He let himself, in the words of Paul, be beset with human weakness.

Perikeimai, the Hebrew word translated beset in Hebrews 5:2, literally means to be surrounded by, encompassed by, to be clothed with.

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Christ clothed himself with weakness. He wore our feebleness as his frock. He took both onto and into Himself, allowing Himself to literally be beset with weakness. On the Cross, He became both the High Priest and the sacrificial lamb, slain once for all time, to atone for our sins and separation from God, the Father.

He did this that He might continue His role as our Great High Priest. What Christ once did on earth, He continues to do in Heaven, still living to make intercession for us.

We are called to boldly, confidently wear our weakness before a world (and all too often a Church) that demands we have it all together.

Christ himself wore weakness. We are called to wear our weakness.

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:14-16. 

With one amazing catch. When we bring our weakness, we receive His clothes of dignity and strength.

I have always felt mocked by the Proverbs 31 woman, “who is clothed with strength and dignity.” Now, I am beginning to realize that she wore strength and dignity because she first wore her weakness. Those were borrowed robes that she received in the presence of the Great High Priest.

As such, we do not have to wear strength in the world, to show our best selves, to gather ourselves together and hide and dilute our brokenness, weakness and frailty. As much as I love him, my Phin was wrong. We do not have to fix ourselves. Indeed, for the Christian, quite the opposite is true. We are called to bring our rags to the throne room and receive robes of borrowed strength.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Race: Seats in the Theater of God

Historically, I am a late adapter. We didn’t catch on to the Downton Abbey craze until about a year before it died out; we still haven’t watched This Is Us (gasp). But, even for me, this one takes the cake.

The Souls of Black Folk was written by W.E.B. Dubois in 1903, and I am just now reading its powerful words in 2017. Talk about late to the game.

I know the race conversation has been dominant in our culture for the past decade or so, but as per my usual, I am slow in catching on to the complexity and significance of the conversation.

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Spurred on by rich conversations with my friends who are African American and by discipling a minority for the first time in my life, I am waking up to the conversations and the causes that have been whizzing all around, unbeknownst to sleepy me.

The recent dialogue concerning Lecrae’s ongoing processing of his race particularly within Reformed circles has grabbed my attention in a way I was not expecting.

For the first time in my life, I am actually trying to understand emotionally, not just intellectually, the complexity of race relations even, and especially, within the Church. Always having been in the dominant culture of the Church, it has been easy for me to navigate conversations about race back to our deepest identity in Christ. While I do believe that this is the singular identity of the people of God, I am beginning to see that our cultural stories affect our understanding and experience of that deepest identity.

I want to borrow (and potentially butcher, as he was far more brilliant on his dumbest day than I would be on my sharpest) a theater analogy from C.S. Lewis’ writings regarding Christian literature and paste it into the arena of the race conversation with the Church.

On the main stage should be Christ and the gospel. He is the main event, and as such, our identities in Him should be paramount. After all, the Church is a motley crew of mixed personalities, races, classes and cultures who share a devotion for the Christ who devoted Himself to us through death on a Cross.

Yet, in the theater, we all have different seats with different angles and lines of vision. If one is sitting in the balcony, one has a certain view of the show. One might see details and nuances that someone sitting close to the orchestra pit could not or would not notice. Likewise, someone sitting in the far right corner will experience the drama of the gospel in a different way then someone dead center or far left.

It seems to me that most of my minority friends within the Church are not trying to steal attention away from the show, the main event, Christ and the shared identity we have in Him. They are merely trying to say that not everyone sits in the same seats, racially, economically and culturally that the dominant culture does.

For years, decades and even centuries and beyond, white, middle class culture has sat in the dominant seat in Reformed Christian circles. This is not to say that there have not always been minorities, both economically and culturally, within the Reformed Protestant movement; they, however, adapted to the culture of the those claiming to sit at dead center of the theater with the perfect and most clear view.

What I see blowing through Reformed circles in the Church is simply a voicing of those who, for various reasons, have seats in other parts of the theater. The danger, of course, is that the seats themselves would become the center of discussion and, whether intentionally or unintentionally, steal the show from Christ and the gospel.

As such, it would look like a bunch of audience members standing up in the middle of the show to argue about who has the better seat and why.

“Well, you have been blocking my view and I have been stuck in this seat.”

“It’s not my fault you are in that seat, I did not choose that for you; talk to the usher, not me.”

“My seat is far superior to yours. I know so because I have always been told so. Only I understand the show perfectly.”

There are many seats in the theater of Christ. When the 12 tribes of Israel used to camp around the arc of the covenant at the center, they each had view points to the arc of God’s presence. The same shekinah glory at the center shone on all.

Our seats matter, the plots of land on which we find ourselves matter, our stories of interacting over the gospel personally and culturally and racially matter.

We would do well to hear from those who sit in different seats in the theater of Christ what they see that we cannot. We would do well to hear their stories, their particular pains and problems that have drawn them to see and treasure Christ more deeply.

Yet, we must remember the context. The drama of the kingdom is ongoing, the gospel is meant to steal the show, to draw the gaze of a divergent and often disagreeing crowd from their seats to the stage.

I am not trying to oversimplify complex discussions. I am not trying to glaze over wrongs done and voices hushed and silenced either by choice or force. I am merely trying to understand the bigger picture of what is being played out in Christendom and culture lately. I recognize that for my entire Christian life, I have only noticed my own seat in the theater. I am beginning to see that friends I dearly love sit in different seats. I want to hear what they hear and see what they see because I love them, but also because it will only make me appreciate the masterpiece of the gospel better.

 

The Importance of Wasting Time

I spent the first ten minutes sitting there twiddling my thumbs and beating myself up that I left my computer, commentaries and study notes in the car. Oddly enough I did not even have my Bible or my journal with me, which left me feeling utterly naked sitting at the coffee shop waiting on my friend who was running late for a morning chat.

Phrases with useful suggestions for how to spend the intermittent 15 minutes remaining were on a continual loop through my mind. “I could be using this time finishing up discussion lessons; I really need to tweak my notes for the Bible lecture next week. If nothing else, I could be journaling or memorizing Scripture.”  

I giggled as I looked up in my antsy, super-charged efficiency mode to see the coffee shop’s motto, Waste Time Together, painted in hipster hues on a chalkboard counter. (Aside: San Diego friends, check out Scrimshaw Coffee on El Cajon Blvd).

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Ah, Lord, I see. You finally got my attention. You desire nothing more for me in these stolen moments than to desire to waste time with you, sitting in your presence, getting nothing measurable accomplished.

This past few months have been among the busier of my recent life. Hosting dear out of town friends and family, starting a new 20 hour a week job, helping to get Fall ministry events kicked off and rolling, all on top of the normal insanity that is trying to be a wife and momma to three and a mostly functioning human being.

Martha was engaged at her sister for “wasting time,” sitting at Jesus feet with all the meals to be cooked, water to be drawn and details to be finished for the meal with their famous rabbi friend, Jesus. To her great surprise and to ours as well, He rebuked her for rebuking her sister. It seems that in Jesus’ economy, time is measured differently.

Similarly, Jesus’ disciples were in a rush. They had been summoned to the home of wealthy mover and shaker, Jairus, to heal his dying daughter. No time to waste. Hurry, hurry. Weave through the crowds. But Jesus did not succumb to their haste. He had time to stop in the midst of a crushing crowd to address the bleeding and desperate woman who had, in faith, touched the hem of his cloak.

Recently, I was convicted while reading a book written many decades ago by a busy physician and his busy friends, addressing the topic of fatigue in the then-modern society. As a Swiss physician addressing other Christian doctors and pastors, Paul Tournier talked about our tendency to “have too many irons on the fire.” He wrote, “Men are in a hurry, and we physicians and pastors even more so than others.”

Tournier urged his audience to consider “each instance of fatigue” as a signal calling us “to meditate a little more, for it can be a sign that something is not in order in our life, something which we must examine before God.” He prescribed “meditation and this search for a sovereignty of God in the organization of our lives” as a “remedy for hurry and commotion.”

Teach us to number our days that we may present to you a heart of wisdom.
Psalm 90:12. 

I have always read this verse through the lens of urgency. Your days are numbered, therefore don’t waste a moment. Squeeze every bit of efficiency you can out of your days. Labor while it is still day, for the darkness is coming. That kind of thing.

While I do think that God desires us to use and invest our time intentionally and wisely, not sitting around passively vegging out or actively pursuing only our own comfort or desires, I am also learning to see that God values our carefully chosen and guarded wasted time with Him.

Just as I am willing to “waste” time that could be invested in other significant and necessary tasks to spend time simply watching a football game beside my husband or picking up acorns with my children, the Lord longs that I would be willing to “waste” time with Him.

Its not that journaling is wrong or that studying the Scriptures is a poor time investment; indeed, generally speaking, both are commendable investments of time. It’s just that sometimes, I deem those as useful tasks rather than opportunities to sit and enjoy the beauty of God.

In all my desire to serve Him, to be a cleansed vessel, useful to the Master, a la 2 Timothy 2:21, I do not want to forget His beauty and His matchless Worth. He is worthy of wasting time that could be otherwise spent. He is infinitely beautiful and He longs to be enjoyed and explored, not simply served and proclaimed.

Excuse me, I must go and waste time with my Jesus.

 

My Maestro & My Metronome

I am completely tone deaf. All self-deprecation aside, I really am. In fifth grade, my cheeks were the color of a pomegranate during our flutophone concert, keeping me from sinking into my desired invisibility as I moved my fingers from hole to hole pretending to play some butchered Christmas song. I got away with it. No one knew that I still couldn’t read the notes without reciting, “Every Good Boy Deserves something.” See, I still cannot remember; musically inept I remain.

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Things have not changed around here. Even though I married a man who is musically gifted, it seems I have passed on my musical prowess to some, if not all, of my children. Unless rhythm develops over time or explodes at puberty, it looks like we won’t be the Von Traps. But this week, in his predictably unpredictable way, the Lord chose two musical images to refresh and restore my soul.

We live in a frenetic world and frenetic souls live in us. Our culture is so far removed the earth’s natural rhythms and cycles. Fall means nothing more than cute scarves and Pumpkin Spice Lattes and cute kid’s Halloween costumes. Most of us have no natural connection to the planting cycles or the tides or the lunar calendar or the liturgical calendar, things which for centuries have grounded humanity and provided rhythm and cadence to life. For most of us in America, holidays and the marketplace determine our seasons as we navigate through the panoply of seasonal candies and products set up around us 3 months in advance. Sure, it is built completely around consumerism and materialism, but at least it provides rhythm. So we buy in, I buy in, hook, line and sinker, desperate for something to provide the cadence, the regularity we long for.

But our souls are made for so much more. This isn’t the rhythm we were intended for, and in moments of clarity, I find myself longing to have someone else, something else set the pace for my own heart, my own life, my own home, even if everything all around me is tuned into the market cycles. Even though I know better, I find myself getting pressed into, pulled into, falling into rhythm with the things that are so paper thin I can see right through them.

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This Sunday was picture day for soccer. If you haven’t experienced this, you should prop yourself in a tree and observe this phenomenon like Jane Goodall observed the monkeys. You would be in for a treat. Hundreds of parents and kids descending upon a middle school sports field, little colored troops waiting in lines, cranky, hot parents trying to wake themselves up with coffee. It is quite a scene. So there I was, blending right in and falling right into the rhythms marked out for me by the soccer calendar. Phin was crying and tired because we had to miss his nap. I was trying to figure out how we would get to church on time, do a costume change out of the cleats and shin guards and then be back at the fields right after church to do it all over again for Ty’s picture. We walked into church, cranky, sweaty, and far from peaceful and ready to worship. But this is just what we do, right? Isn’t this what I am supposed to do?

While sitting in church, trying to collect myself and my discordant heart, the Lord brought an image and a phrase to me that slowly restored peace and calmness and deeper purpose. “Aimee, I am your metronome.”  I set your rhythm, I set the cadence. Even if everyone around you is frenetic, getting pulled into the pace that society sets, you don’t have to be. You don’t have to run like a crazy lady to soccer pictures to be sure that your kids’ face can be a on a button so they will be confident that they are loved and seen. You know a deeper love, you can teach them that deeper confidence that comes from my ways, my rhythm. But they can’t know that if you don’t fall in line with me. You need to be still long enough to hear the steady ticks of my metronome. Fall in line with me. This is the pace you were made for. Believe me, I know, I created this universe and all of humanity. I know what is best.

Dallas Willard, in my favorite book, The Divine Conspiracy, writes about this very thing.

“All of these these things {speaking of the intricacy of molecular science} show Jesus’ cognitive and practical mastery of every phase of reality: physical, moral and spiritual. He is Master only because He is Maestro. ‘Jesus is Lord’ can mean little in practice for anyone who has to hesitate before saying, ‘Jesus is smart.’ He is not just nice, he is brilliant. He is the smartest man who ever lived. He is now supervising the entire course of world history while simultaneously preparing the rest of the universe for our future role in it. He always has the best information on everything and certainly also on the the things that matter most in human life.

God alone is both maestro and metronome. We won’t live life as it is meant to be lived if anyone else or anything else directs and sets our pace. Needless to say, we skipped Ty’s soccer picture.

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Sighs and Cries

Just as parents attuned to their children’s suffering or worrying hear the slightest sighs as if through a mega-phone, the Lord hears our earnest sighs as loud cries.

I’ll never forget hearing our first child whimpering in the bassinet by our bed and thinking it sounded like shrieks that were nearly unbearable. Even now that we have three more autonomous grade-schoolers, I still have the ability to hear the slightest sigh of worry or embarrassment or deep, shaking fear from the sidelines of a soccer field or across a crowded playground.

Thankfully, our Heavenly Father hears our sighs as cries across far greater distances than soccer fields and lunch tables.  Thanks to the indwelling Spirit He has graciously sent to be nearer to us than the air we breath, we have a sigh translator before the throne of God.

Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. Romans 8:26-27.

The context of the above-mentioned Scripture from Romans 8 is life in the Spirit while we live on this moaning, broken planet, longing for the full adoption as sons.  Paul assumes suffering in its spectrum from daily inconveniences and exhaustion to unbearable diagnoses and unimaginable tragedy.  Sighs, both trivial and tragic, are expected and anticipated; however, they are heard in stereo by a compassionate and caring Savior who longs to bear the brunt of the weights that fall upon us in this long march to our forever home.

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Even before the Holy Spirit was poured our upon the children of God, He was accustomed to hearing the sighs of His people as cries. Moses found himself at the helm of an entire race of escaping people staring at an impassable sea with the strongest army in the known world gaining on them.

With his petrified people looking to him in fear, outwardly Moses does what any great leader would do: he composes himself and calms his people, saying, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord which he will work for you today” (Exodus 12:13).

Yet inwardly, the heart of Moses must have sighing in silence to the Lord. The very next verse says, “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward’.”

Regarding this Scriptural scene, Martin Luther writes the following.

“Moses has not cried unto the Lord. He trembled so he could hardly talk. His faith was at a low ebb. He saw the people of Israel wedged between the sea and the approaching armies of Pharaoh. How were they to escape? Moses did not know what to say. How then could God say that Moses was crying to him? God hears the groaning heart of Moses and the groans to Him sounded like shouts for help. God is quick to catch the sigh of the heart.” 

Ten little words that have comforted my soul of late. God is quick to catch the sigh of the heart. He hears our silent sighs under the heavy mantle of leadership or parenting. He hears our short sighs of loneliness or exhaustion or choking grief that go unnoticed by others, and He seeks to comfort us.

Those sighs are being translated into prayers according to the perfect will of God. May we be comforted to know that our Father hears our slightest sighs as loud cries. He will continue to do so until our sighs of worry or pain or exile are swallowed up by the sighs of relief that we will gladly heave when we see our Christ fact to face in His new heavens and new earth.

Love’s Lonely Offices

E.B. White wrote that “A poet is a person who ‘lets drop a line that gets remembered in the morning’.”

In his poem Those Winter Sundays, Robert Hayden dropped such a line, and it has been stuck in my head like the thread of a spiderweb.

Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueback cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires ablaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house.

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

The last two lines have been playing on repeat in my mind for over a week. What do I know of love’s austere and lonely offices?

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As I continue to step further into parenting, as I watch my mother-in-law care for her sick husband, as I wade into a new Church leadership role, I continue to notice more of love’s lonely offices.

Waking up at odd hours of the night to spend an hour getting her husband out of bed and to the toilet and back, my Amma knows austere and lonely offices well. She has opened my eyes to the quiet faith and uncelebrated fortitude of caregivers to the aging and sick.

Being around our church more, I see the pastoral leadership team bearing the weight of the congregation’s needs and sufferings. I have an inside vantage point to the wrestling in prayer and planning that happen behind the scenes on a daily basis, another window into love’s lonely offices.

Watching friends serving the foster care system set up visitations and caring for children that are not theirs. Love’s austere and lonely offices.

A smaller example, yet significant in its own little way: I spent time writing notes in my boy’s notebooks for school only to be told, tenderly, but still painfully, “Yeah, I saw that. All those notes always say the same thing.” A little example of love’s little yet lonely offices.

The world is full of austere and lonely offices, but they are all glimpses of the Love’s most austere and lonely office, the office of Christ.

In the poem, the image of the father waking with tired and blistered hands to stoke the fires of warmth for his son are both moving and memorable. Yet, the image of the Creator God sending His beloved, dear Son-self into the hatred and hardness of our broken globe trumps the former image.

The image of Christ in the garden, laying with His face to the ground, in agony while His closest friends slept. Love’s austere and lonely office.

The image of Christ lifted on a Cross, perfection pounded by imperfection’s penalty, forgiving the offenders. Love’s most austere and lonely office.

In an eternal string of days, our Christ sets the table, serves His children, offering them the meal of Himself, his body broken on our behalf that we would be made whole. Often, the meal is skipped, if not scorned. Yet Christ faithfully serves in His austere and lonely office.

What a joy to know that as we go about our own nuanced versions of love’s austere and lonely offices, followers of Christ are not alone.  Far from alone, Christ’s brothers and sisters are empowered and enabled by the Spirit and strength from His lifetime of love’s lonely offices.

The Father’s sending, Christ’s sacrifice and the Spirit’s closer-than-the-air nearness transform our lonely offices into lovely offices, chances to join the Trinity in an eternal office of love.

 

 

 

 

Helpless and Full of Hope

The people at Home Depot probably thought I was crazy. I stood staring at a wall of bits, unsure what I was supposed to buy (In our household, sending me to Home Depot is like sending my husband to the grocery for feminine products; always a lose/lose). Other customers must have thought I was far too attached to my need for a 1-1/2″ bit as tears were pooling in my tired eyes.

I wasn’t crying because I couldn’t find the small metal tool, but they didn’t know that. I was crying in sheer helplessness. My feelings of helplessness from the disasters and the sudden tragedies of loved ones were all mounting like stacking blocks. They had to crash eventually.

A precious lady I led in a discipleship group many years back lost her twenty-something brother when he was struck by lightning last week. Horrific, yet the family is clinging to hope in the Lord.

My Appa’s heath continues to decline, and as such, we find ourselves hundreds upon hundreds of miles away from his bedside and the errands that would serve my Amma.

My sister and her husband live in Beaumont with her wild gaggle of boys, which only increases my sense of utter helplessness as I watch the news of raging waters and torrential rains.

The people in Home Depot did not know that my tears were not attached to their products or lack thereof, they were attached to a deep well of helplessness peppered with eternal hope that all will be made well.

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I see the same fear in my four year old’s eyes when he catches short, interpreted glimpses at the images of Harvey’s havoc. Just last night, he popped out of bed with a slew of questions and ideas. How do they get to the boats? What if you don’t have a boat? What about their stuff? Does California ever flood? What about my Legos? Are the dogs scared?

His precious brain, wild with wonder and trust, trying to make sense of pain and devastation. He innately knows that these things should not be, yet they are.

I see myself in him, I see humanity in him trying to make sense of the brokenness, trying to find explanation and categories in which to put the helplessness.

We don’t need help with helplessness, we need help with hope.

Goethe once quipped, “Tell me of your certainties, I have doubts enough of my own.”

All week, as my doubts have assaulted me, I have borrowed from Anne Bradstreet’s certainty, as penned in Upon the Burning of our House (penned after losing everything to a fire in 1666).

In silent night when rest I took,
For sorrow near I did not look,
I wakened was with thund’ring noise
And piteous shrieks of dreadful voice.
That fearful sound of “fire” and “fire,”
Let no man know is my Desire.

I, starting up, the light did spy,
And to my God my heart did cry
To straighten me in my Distress
And not to leave me succourless.
Then, coming out, behold a space
The flame consume my dwelling place.

And when I could no longer look,
I blest His name that gave and took,
That laid my goods now in the dust.
Yea, so it was, and so ‘twas just.
It was his own, it was not mine,
Far be it that I should repine;….

Here stood that trunk, and there that chest,
There lay that store I counted best.
My pleasant things in ashes lie
And them behold no more shall I.
Under thy roof no guest shall sit,
Nor at thy Table eat a bit…

Then straight I ‘gin my heart to chide,
And did thy wealth on earth abide?
Didst fix thy hope on mould’ring dust?
The arm of flesh didst make thy trust?
Raise up thy thoughts above the sky
That dunghill mists away may fly.

Thou hast a house on high erect
Framed by that mighty Architect,
With glory richly furnished,
Stands permanent though this be fled.
It‘s purchased and paid for too
By Him who hath enough to do.

A price so vast as is unknown,
Yet by His gift is made thine own;
There‘s wealth enough, I need no more,
Farewell, my pelf, farewell, my store.
The world no longer let me love,
My hope and treasure lies above.

While no houses are burning, many are resting in standing water. My prayer has been and will continue to be that those affected would be pointed to the certainties of the Christian faith, which provides a framework for such terrible pain and offers the One true hope for which we all deeply long.

 

 

A Quiet Courage

When I think of courage, images of Navy Seals on covert missions come immediately to mind; however, the Apostle Paul wrote about a much broader and more encompassing scope of courage.

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The Biblical concept of courage includes unsung humans doing ordinary things out of an extraordinary longing and hope. Thinking through this lens, rather than the Hollywood version, I am beginning to see faces and places of quiet courage all around me. My dear friend raising her four children alone while her husband is deployed and my widowed friends facing life without their lifelong partners live in quiet courage. Likewise, my mom friends who are letting their hard-earned diplomas serve as coasters for a series of sippy cups and my husband’s friends who come home from hard days at work and choose to invest in the lives of their children and youngest men are deeply courageous.

Allow me to unpack and explain.

In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul writes about living in burdened, bruised bodies in a broken world as exiles.  In this particular part of his second letter to the Corinthian church, he juxtaposes temporary residence in a tent with permanent and secure residence in a home to remind the fledgling Church of their ultimate end. We were made for glorified bodies in the presence of our Glorious Lord, not the tattered bodies and lives we inhabit while we await Christ’s second coming.

Because they were made for more than this earth, Paul reminds them that their longings will betray them every time they attempt to make the raw-hide tent anything more than that. Paul, who kept up tent-making as a side hustle when ministry support ran low, knew much about tents and had blistered his hands in their production. He, more than anyone, knew of their weaknesses and limitations as compared to a strong edifice that could not be loosened or torn.

As such, Paul draws a picture of stability and security in the Lord’s presence in bodies meant to keep, pulling the heads of the Corinthian believers back up from the grind of life on earth to their glorious inheritance as saints.

Having fixed their longings and gaze back upon the life to come, Paul ushers in the word and concept of courage.

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please Him. 2 Corinthians 5:6-9. NAS.

Paul’s context for courage is not limited to the battlefield or sky-diving, but extends to the everyday life of the common Christian. He told the Church then and still tells the Church now that living by faith rather than sight takes great courage. The Christians mode of operation and motto, faith over form, runs counter to that of the world in which we live.

The Greek word tharseo, translated courage, used twice above comes from a root word meaning “bolstered because warmed up,” “strengthened from within.”

The image embedded in this word, being warmed up, softened and stirred to courage, helps me understand how to stay courageous in my common life. I will not be able to courageously live by faith, choosing to forego instant gratification and creature comforts in light of eternal satisfaction with the Lord of all comforts, unless my hearts stays warm and bolstered by the fires of His great love.

The more I sit by the warming love of the Cross, the most obvious representation of His life and promises, the more my heart will be bolstered for the battle that is daily and consistently fighting to walk by faith rather than sight.

It will take a life of settled security in the love of Christ to live the life of quiet courage required of Christians while they live in torn tents, awaiting an eternal edifice.

May we warm ourselves early and often at the hearth of the heart of Christ; may we invite others and even go so far as to labor to bring others to the hearth. May we bolster each other to continue to live lives of quiet courage until we are at home with the Lord.

On School Supplies and the Spirit

My husband came home thinking it was a normal evening. It only took one look at the countertops littered with school supplies to know that he was wrong. The school supply muse hits me suddenly, roughly about a month or two before we are even nearing the home stretch of summer.

Label-maker in hand my son stood beside me carefully printing and peeling scores of neat and tidy labels to be delicately placed on each sharpened, Ticonderoga pencil and Pink Pearl eraser. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Now we have had three pregnant book bags stuffed to the brim hanging on our hooks, gathering dust. My husband knows I am weird; he doesn’t understand me, but he embraces the mystery.

Their bags are neatly packed and ready months before our hearts are ready for the change of routine. There is something about having everything they will need and a few extras at home for replenishment that settles this momma’s heart.

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The jarring reality of sending these souls with whom my soul is most at home out into an unknown school year with unknown challenges is somewhat mitigated knowing I am sending them with well-packed, love-laden book bags.

Every year, after the whirlwind of label making and crayon counting, my soul realizes in a fresh way the incredible gift that is Jesus’ supply of the Holy Spirit to His children.

Far more than a bag of inanimate objects or tools, God saw fit and had planned from before time took its first tick to supply His children with His indwelling Spirit. The Holy Spirit shows up in the Old Testament in the Book of Beginnings, hovering over the created world, protecting and preserving. He came upon and inspired various prophets, priests and kings in intermittent yet powerful ways. Yet, as William Barclay succinctly writes, “In the Old Testament…the experience of the Spirit is not an experience for the common man or for the every day.”

When Christ shared a last meal with His young and inexperienced group of fishermen-turned-itinerant preachers, He already had their book bags packed. He would be leaving them for far more than a six-hour school day, and He knew exactly what the future would hold for His disciples.

They were petrified at the thought of His leaving, but He reassured them that it was indeed better that He leave them. He knew the Supply of the Spirit He would offer to them following His Resurrection (John 14). They would have all that they would need and more than their Jewish minds could have ever imagined.

Never in their wildest dreams could the disciples have imagined that the Spirit of God who came upon the celebrated prophets occasionally would come to make His home in each of them constantly.  And He does the same for us. This truth should shock us, should shake us and support us.

The Holy Spirit is, indeed, person, not a thing or an energy or a power. Better than a book bag of gadgets or maps or money or elixirs, God supplies His children with His own constant presence and power within.

Yet, so many of us know so little of His comfort, conviction, reminders and power. We try to live the Christian life with our own meager supplies and from our own paltry power.  And we wonder why we are joyless, hopeless, disappointed and disillusioned far more than we care to admit.

When I pass by the boys’ fully-prepared book bags daily, I am reminded that God has fully-prepared me for the coming year through His Spirit.

You and I do not know what the year ahead holds; we don’t even know what tomorrow or the next ten minutes hold. Yet, we have an infinitely good Father who gave His perfect Son who gave His Holy Spirit to supply us with all we will ever need to get home to Him. Better than a stuffed book bag, God has seen fit to stuff our limited and broken souls full of the Third person of the Trinity.

With Him, we can march confidently into the unknown year, smiling at the future (Proverbs 31: 25).